Walking along the King’s Road you will notice that there is a colourful illustrated hoarding where the café used to be. A new café is under construction. Cadogan held a design competition for emerging UK architects and the decisive winner was Nex-Architecture. The design takes its starting point from the historic curved wall that is part of the original composition that frames the classical porticoed headquarters building, now the Saatchi Gallery.
Nex’s idea for the new structure is a spiral precipitated from the arc of the listed wall. This new wall is cut in places to form a colonnade. This simple geometric form allows open sheltered seating and views through the building to the green space of the running track beyond. In three dimensions the shape allows a gently sweeping stair up to rooftop garden seating; a great place to watch the world go by.
The initial café was limited in its space, the replacement will have the benefit of a substantial basement that will accommodate kitchen and toilet facilities, enabling the ground level to be clear for seating and service. The most innovative feature will be curved glass panels that retract through the perimeter paving into the basement. Hence the whole ground level will be open to the air during the summer months. The former gelateria fulfilled a function of providing refreshment and out-door seating in the Square but never quite provided the focal point the space deserves.
The Duke of York campus was designed by John Sanders, a pupil of Sir John Soane, in 1801 as a school for military orphans. It had a strictly segregated regime and harsh discipline. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the school moved to Dover and the 10 acres became the home of the Volunteer Army, subsequently the Territorial Army. As a military HQ, the frontage to the King’s Road was separated by railings and security control booths. The running track barely glimpsed beyond densely parked cars. A gap in the road to be skipped past.
Twenty years ago, The Treasury determined that the site was too valuable and should be sold. Cadogan were identified as a ‘special’ purchaser, especially since the Royal Borough planners and English Heritage were concerned that the historic campus should remain as one entity and not sold off piecemeal. The target was to create an extension of the ‘urban realm’ with a comprehensive mix of uses for the benefit of Chelsea. It has become a major shopping destination with generous pedestrian spaces, lots of dining offers as well as offices, affordable and market rental housing, Garden House primary school and the Saatchi contemporary art gallery. The open space provides for a complementary running club on the track where Roger Bannister trained prior to breaking the 4-minute mile barrier. The Saturday Market adds further to what has become a popular meeting place.
The new café is scheduled to open late next year. It is excellent that this active open space continues to evolve. Nex- Architecture’s design is dynamic and innovative, the retracting glass panels could feature in a James Bond movie! It should add a new focus and finishing touch to Duke of York Square. Let’s hope it adds another great place to hang out in Chelsea.